connections: why they are vital for the health of our souls

connections - hands reaching across the world

There is nothing quite as reassuring to our souls than to know we are not alone with our world view, thoughts, pain and hurts. And if we can find close connections with our family, friends, neighbours or those who live far from us, then that is a great gift to treasure.

It is one we need more than ever when life gets tough, our focus is fractured, social media “friends” might be anything but, and real life friends can disappear at the drop of a hat. Everyone is so busy and hard pressed that it takes real commitment to stay in touch.

My years of internet life and blogging have been greatly enriched by making close connections and friendships with others. It’s one of the things I miss most when I need to pull back due to health relapses.

I cherish hearing from those who maintain contact with me when I’m out of action and particularly unwell. Because we could all use friends who keep the faith and do not give up on us.

It’s when we’re more adrift than usual due to chronic illness, extra health challenges or excess pressure that we really value the connections we have with others and with God. Our relationship with God especially acts as an anchor for our restless souls and a life raft to cling to when we feel lost and alone. 

Making connections

Across the curve
of this sprawling earth,
through different time zones,

straddling deep oceans,
instant communication comes
across the vast continents,
and hope gets birthed.

It comes from close
connection forged across
the pond, home to home,
where hand holds hand,

where hearts beat as one
and prayers ascend
to our online friends
via the Father’s throne.

We discover others
who think like us,
whose souls are in harmony,

united in the bond of humanity,
criss-crossing the world
with ease via our screens,
revealing expressions of love.

This great privilege
enables us to visit
without boundaries of time,
distance and space,

as we bring companionship
to our isolated, lonely friends
and receive a joy and peace
which nothing can transcend.
© joylenton

connections - earth - globe - network - making connections poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Wouldn’t it be good if what unites us proves to be stronger than what divides us? I’m praying it will be so as my country begins to live with the outcomes of Brexit. And for the world as a whole so that greater harmony and peace might result.

Maybe if we realised that reaching out with understanding, compassion, grace and love was preferable to distancing ourselves because we cannot all agree on something, maybe we could rediscover the joys of making life enhancing connections with one another. PS: My poetic friend, Jenneth Graser, has written a beautiful prayer for connection here.

connection people in a circle - Wouldn't it be good if what unites us proves to be stronger than what divides us quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

thirst: quenching a thirst we might ignore

thirsty - cat drinking from a fountain -quenching our thirst @poetryjoy.com

It doesn’t take much to remind us we are thirsty and to find the means to quench it. Whether we snuggle up with a steaming mug of coffee, hot chocolate or herbal tea on a cold winter’s day, or gulp down cool, refreshing glasses of water, juice or lemonade in reaction to increasing heat, we can easily satiate that need.

But we might be less aware of our inner soul thirst. Not just the drives and desires, the passions that fuel and fire our activities, but a gnawing spiritual awareness of our emptiness and how to fill it.

Even if our eyes are opened, we might choose to satisfy the insatiable thirst inside with physical things or with compulsive behaviour that could end up harming us, if not our purse.

During my recent stint in the soul desert wilderness, it took me a while to register my need to reach out to God and to realise how thirsty I was. At first, I was too lost in my thoughts. Too pulverised by fatigue, weakness and pain, and too discouraged to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Thirsting,

A voice calls across the desert
sitting in our souls,
encouraging us to listen,

to pause and bend down low,
prepare ourselves to drink
as much as we might need

from a Well that never dries out,
from the Fountain of Life himself,
from a place where all must kneel

in order to receive
because we thirst for more
than life’s bare necessities.

And we come as life’s lost
and lonely wounded ones,
the broken people

who are depleted and undone,
barren, empty and incomplete
and dying on our feet,

because our souls have shrunk
to fit the world we’re in
instead of being wholly

comfortable in our own skin,
as it stretches to the heavens
and back again.
© joylenton

thirst - woman drinking from a jug - thirsty poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

In the desert of depression and ditches of discouragement we get into, we can be slow to cotton on to the fact that God is already present with us in our struggles. He tries to attract our attention in numerous ways, yet we can be too self-preoccupied or stressed to notice. We thirst, but we don’t always know what for.

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” – Jeremiah 31:25 NIV

God might lead us into the desert for some necessary soul maintenance work, as He did with me, but He won’t abandon us to our fate. Rather, He stays, encourages, whispers hope and healing to our hearts and gently leads us out again when the time is ripe.

Then when we emerge from the desert, from our painful places, we discover our thirst for God’s presence has grown. We thirst for His Word and His voice. He is the Well we keep searching for, and it never runs dry.

wilderness: a place of refuge, restoration and grace

Have you ever been in a wilderness? A bleak, barren desert place where you felt lost and alone? I have. Many times. But mine, and maybe yours too, is more of a soul state than a physical place.

It’s an arid environment we don’t want to linger in. Many of us face deserts of discouragement, depression or despair. And they feel just as real to us as if we were in a sun-scorched land where very little signs of life exist.

When escape is possible, it’s a huge relief because we’re longing to move on. And, at first, as we begin to enter new territory, it can seem like a huge waste of time to have been there at all.

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” – Hosea 2:14 NIV

However, these wilderness places could be areas of soul refuge, restoration and grace, spiritual training grounds that God leads us into, or an oasis of enforced rest because we’ve become too exhausted to carry on with our usual pursuits.

If we can learn to not resist but see the wildernesses we experience as necessary pausing places in which to catch our breath, mature and grow, our fears lessen at being called to endure them for however long it takes. Then we begin to assimilate the lessons we have learnt in this seemingly inhospitable environment.

Wilderness

This is a desert
in all its barren beauty,
where we wilt,
desperately seeking shade,

while sun’s fierce heat
scorches our souls
and we wither within
at losing the life
we used to know.

Here we might feel alone
but a holy shadow
accompanies us as we choke

on dust, stumble and fall
because we see no way out
and do not know
what direction we should go.

All is swirling winds
that sting our faces like flint
and bring us deeper pain,

as we shield our eyes
while we’re walking blind,
full of longing inside
to move forward again.

We think we’ve become
deaf to God’s voice
in this wild wilderness,

but it has somehow
penetrated us soul deep,
as if his wisdom

has been instilled by soft
osmosis in our hearts
and we discover it as we depart.
© joylenton

desert - sand - wilderness poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?” – Song of Songs 8:5 NIV

God keeps us company and waters our souls in the wilderness so we are never as alone or deprived as we might feel. After six long months of absence, He unexpectedly released me back into blogging last week over at Words of Joy – which can now be found at joylenton.com. And He has graced me to resume here too.

I was amazed to still be standing after the Christmas holidays, never mind receiving a fresh supply of cognitive if not physical energy! So to be coming up from the wilderness is a gift I don’t take for granted.

As always, I’m completely dependent on God for the ability, strength and focus to write. But I hope you will stick around, wait for the words to come, maybe peruse the archives if you are new here, and allow me a bit of settling in time as well. Thank you! 😉💜

goal: when our priorities get shifted by life and chronic illness

Life can be reduced to goal after goal. We can get so hung up on achievement and ticking things off our list that we forget to pause, breathe or appreciate it. It’s like a never-ending treadmill.

If we’re too goal oriented, our hearts can become frantic, our minds cluttered and our ears resistant to listening to what’s wisest for us right now. And it can happen without us noticing because we’ve failed to pay attention to the signals our bodies and souls have been frantically sending us. Then we end up in overwhelm, with no way out, or so it seems.

At that stage we have choices to make: do we pause/stop/reduce our expectations/stick with more manageable, achievable goals/reset our thoughts or move the goal posts wider apart than before? If we have chronic illness, then this kind of quandary occurs pretty frequently, if not daily, because the ability well runs dry with alarming speed. With relatively minor tasks, exhaustion and depletion set in and we are forced to pause.

Over the last few months, I’ve been caught up in completing and publishing my latest book. Fuelled by adrenaline. High on the rush of getting something done. Trying to drive this slow carriage of mine full steam ahead. But it soon protested.  And crashed. Just when I had completed the task… phew!!

As I saw the word for five-minute-friday, I smiled wryly. And searched out my folders for something to share because I’ve got very little fresh creative juice left. The poem that made the cut took longer than five minutes to write but it perfectly encapsulates what my next priority should be.

Pausing

My worth and value
do not lie
in the words I write
or the thoughts I share
on social media,

or how I might
be perceived by others
who view my life,
my deeds and tasks.

But they are rooted
in my relationship with God
as he creates, shapes and takes
each thought
and provides the reassurance

that I need for strength,
as his cherished child
and his dependent, sufficient
beloved one.

So I will not blanch
or pull back
from what he asks of me
with quiet persistence
but offer him

my surrender willingly,
as he invites
me to pause again and taste
his holy rain.

Even though it hurts
to become invisible
to others,
I already know I can only
give of my best

when I yield to his grace,
accept this season
of online inactivity
and simply rest.
© joylenton

goal - pausing poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com - girl at the beach - worth and value

“In the drivenness of our society, it’s hard to make time to relax our efforts and find transforming energy. That’s why we need this particular posture of waiting so much. When we sit in this way we’re relaxing the bow; we’re coming to rest in a very deep way in God, allowing ourselves to be cradled in the sighing mystery of Christ’s prayer.” – When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd

I’m thankful for a stack of unpublished poems to draw from and the ability to join the fabulous five-minute-friday writing crew as we share our thoughts on this week’s prompt of “goal.” Come join us here and read the great variety of posts being aired.

Friends, sooner than planned, I’m needing to lay down my poetic pen here for a while to recover from my latest M.E relapse. I want to embrace a season of rest, coupled with the goal of paying closer attention to God, my health and family. I’m seeking to savour summer relaxation and sort out my cluttered soul and home.

PS: Any poetry shared over the coming few weeks will be on my Facebook page and/or my Instagram page. I’d love to connect with you in those places! 🙂 You can check out my new book, Embracing Hope: Soul Food to Help Chase Away the Blues in the sidebar here or on amazon. Sending you goodbye hugs until we gather here again. xo ❤ ❤

goal - If something is worth creating space for in your life, it’s worth your full attention #quote #openarms #sun #opendoor @poetryjoy.com

well: how we can achieve a state of soul wellness

What might wellness look like to you? I like to imagine myself fit and healthy, resting, relaxing and reading at the beach, feeling calm, unhurried, unworried and happy. Preparing to stretch my limbs and swim or run along the shore, perhaps. The reality? Quite a bit different, actually.

There are numerous organisations and activities solely aimed at showing us how to achieve a beach-honed body and a relaxed mindset. Yet any change they provide is often transitory. Because most of us have a way of falling back into the bad habits that got us unhealthy and stressed in the first place. Sad but true.

Truth is, I would love to be strong and well. Many have prayed for that to happen over the years, and on the surface it looks like their prayers were in vain. But that’s not true. While I still battle with having M.E and chronic illness, I have a soul balm that soothes me on the inside, found in my relationship with Jesus Christ. 

What if being well, healed and whole was more of an inside job than we imagine? With external and internal assistance from God. Because the greater miracle, the alternative healing could be learning to live well with our problems and challenges, instead of being cured. And that is a path that will lead to our soul’s deeper wellness and tranquillity.

Wellness could look like having faith enough to trust all will be well even if it doesn’t look like it yet. God will always help us to be well equipped for everything we might face. We just need to ask for His help and receive His grace. You and I may not be “in the pink” or have everything “coming up roses” but we can rest in being perfectly known, cared for and loved by God.  And in knowing He will eventually make all things well for us.

All shall be well #quote from Julian of Norwich - roses - garden @poetryjoy.com

Longings

I want to sit
in the safest of places
cradled close
where your soft love-light is
where genuine peace exists

I want to abide
branch out with Spirit fruit
gaining strength
trust in your providence
stay rooted deep in Christ

I want to rise
like a bird freed from her cage
with hope and joy
well equipped and supplied
ready to face all of life

I want to stand
give my testimony of faith
and have courage
to go where you direct me
to minister to others
(C ) joylenton

well - cage - freed bird - longings poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Once again, I’m delighted to be joining my five-minute-friday poem with the talented community of fellow wordsmiths gathering at our gracious host Kate Motaung’s place as we write on this week’s prompt of “well.” You are warmly invited to join us here and read the great variety of posts being shared. 🙂

culture: where flying solo takes focus and courage

Our culture may not define us but it affects how we think and act, what we become accustomed to and decide to join in with or not. We can deliberately set ourselves apart from the norm or allow the thoughts, words and opinions of others to shape how we behave and react to a certain extent. It can be hard to walk an independent path.

As a Christian in a mostly secular society, I’m often made aware how my inner life can differ from others. Because my faith affects how I think, what I believe, the choices I make, and what I decide to allow into my life. Although we cannot totally gate-keep our souls from every unwanted influence or temptation, it’s always worth trying, with God’s help.

Jesus lived a singular life. He wasn’t completely a product of the society He grew up in. He flew solo with courage and focus, walked an often lonely path of total integrity and obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus lived a life of deepest compassion, with a selfless kind of love we’re not fully capable of.

Yet the Good News He came to proclaim reveals the way to a changed life, mind and heart.  We can experience transformed thinking and have the gift of Holy Spirit living within, empowering us to be the best possible version of ourselves by God’s mercy and grace.

Countercultural

You were bold and unafraid
to challenge the status quo
the culture you grew up in
the way of life a Jewish man
would follow as closely as he
said his prayers and read the Torah

To outside eyes you seemed
reckless sometimes, different
from the others, one of a kind
because of how you lived and loved
and welcomed women disciples
into your teaching and your heart

For you appreciated each person’s
uniqueness, what made them tick
even if they couldn’t always behave
in ways the culture and society itself
condoned or thought was appropriate

Your very self-possession led others
to mark you out as special, unafraid
to challenge the wrongs you saw
and the injustices you knew deep
down you had come to right at last

As our Messiah, not everyone would
welcome you with open arms but you
didn’t let it deter you from your task
of living out God’s mission, and revealing
his glorious grace, forgiveness and love
© joylenton

culture - countercultural poem excerpt - As our Messiah quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

My poem has been inspired by this week’s five-minute-friday prompt of “culture” and also by viewing the History channel’s part drama and part documentary series about the life of Jesus. It’s well worth seeing because it offers a perspective from a selection of the gospels’ major characters, plus thoughtful comments from ministers, theologians and historians.

Each episode uncovers a personal insight into what it might have been like to encounter Jesus during His time on earth. You can find out more here. And you are warmly welcome to join in with the fabulous #FMF writing community here.

Let’s be confident in God’s ability to be here with us, to make a way no matter what obstacles and challenges we might face. He will equip us to live in the world without being one with the world in the areas where faith says no.

practice: managing the art of life and faith

It takes determination and dedication to practice until we become masters of an art. I lacked the ability to do it well with the violin when I was a child. Or maybe the pained and irritated expression on my parents’ faces was a deterrent.

And I have never overcome my fear of water or been able to swim with any confidence or ease. Sadly, my life is littered with the taking up and laying aside of numerous activities I felt insufficient at.

Somehow, the thought of not being good enough (or perfect) meant I was unwilling to persevere with gaining proficiency. My insecure soul was easily crushed and deterred. Except in my career as a nurse, in being a mother and in one creative area alone.

I’ve never lost the desire to wrangle with words and write out the poetic. I am content to practice because I love it. Writing makes me come alive on the inside and it’s also where I feel reasonably adept. Though I’m as prone to bouts of insecurity, doubt and comparisonitis as anyone else.

practice - baby with tambourine - God gifts each one of us with talents quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

God gifts each one of us with talents, and He also instructs us in the art of living itself. God’s grace means we are forgiven when we mess up, and we can learn to forgive ourselves and move on. Our progress in the spiritual life is far from linear but it is progress, nevertheless.

We’re often not aware we are practising becoming Christ-like but that’s exactly what is happening every day of our lives. As we yield and yield over again to God, we submit our souls to His authority and supreme love. And allow Holy Spirit to do a transforming work in our hearts.

Though perfection is overrated, it’s also an unattainable goal for imperfect people to reach. Maybe if we spent most of our time and energy on being faithful followers of Jesus Christ, then the rest would fall into its rightful place. We could accept being imperfectly perfect in God’s sight, and those who are daily practising the art of a surrendered life.

Let’s seek to practice the art of life, the art of loving others, as we hone the music in our souls and release our gifts freely into the world. Don’t worry about being perfect. Simply rest in being perfectly loved by God.

practice - child playing piano - Let’s seek to practice the art of life, the art of loving others quote (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com

Practice

Practice makes perfect
or so they say
but I’ve been practising
the art of living
for six decades
without perfection
in any way.

As I reflect, look back
down the long, dark corridor
of time, what has saved
my soul has been
life’s poetry, metre,
rhythm and rhyme.

It’s revealed in holy script
in my very breath
in wonder and awe
in remembrance
of the One who holds
it all—with great reverence
in the palm of his hands.

And he releases tiny glimmers
of grace into our hearts
and minds, our everyday lives
so we can receive, believe,
think and pray, live out
our lives with gratitude
and hope and joy.
© joylenton

I’m grateful for the weekly practice of flexing my poetic muscles by writing for the fabulous five-minute-friday community. This week’s prompt is “practice”, and you are welcome to join us here as I link my poem with the great variety of posts being shared.

practice poem excerpt (C) joylenton @poetryjoy.com